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what is a ultramarathon

What is an Ultra marathon run or runner?

What is a Ultra Marathon?


There has always been a debate about this subject. What exactly is an ultramarathon? How long is an ultramarathon? Maybe you are asking yourself, “I have run several 50Ks, but have yet to run a 50 miler…am I an official ultrarunner?” Perhaps these answers can be answered differently depending on the individual you ask. defines an ultramarathon as “any footrace of 50 or more miles”. Wikipedia defines an ultramarathon as “any sporting event involving running longer than the traditional 26.2 marathon distance”. My mother defines ultrarunners as “crazy people”. As I said, it all depends on who you ask.

However, for those of you are new to the ultrarunning community, it is a general consensus that an ultramarathon is any race whose distance is greater than 26.2 miles., a great resource that has a great calendar of ultrarunning events around the world, only allows race directors to list their race if they are longer than 26.2 miles. Here’s something to think about: maybe a good definition of an ultramarathon would be any race that you can write a story about. Race reports just aren’t as exciting unless the race is longer than 26.2 miles; it is tough to write an inspiring story of your latest 5K, and no one wants to hear your exact splits of that local half-marathon in town a few weeks ago. Nothing against marathons, but they seem monotonous in comparison to ultramarathons.

While there are ultramarathons that are odd distances, such as 29 miles, 38.5 miles, and 41.2, the most common distances of ultramarathons are 50 kilometers, 50 milers, 100 kilometers, and 100 miles. Why? I am not quite sure, other than them being nice round numbers. Besides, it sounds cool when you tell a friend, “yeah, I ran 100 miles/100 kilometers”. It has a nice ring to it. Timed events, such as 6-hour events, 12-hour events, 24-hour events, and multi-day races (such as 3-days, 6-days, and 10-days) do exist as well, but they aren’t as common as distance races. In general, these timed events are run on a loop course to make it easy to keep track of the distance covered by a participant. Would a 4 hour race be considered an ultra marathon? Debatable – maybe I’ll direct a 4-hour event and find out.

Generally speaking, ultramarathons are held on trails; single track trails, dirt paths, and jeep roads are very common in any ultra distance. That’s not to say that there are ultramarathons held on roads because there are some very popular road ultramarathons (have you heard of the Badwater 135?). Because so many of these events are on trails, they tend to be run on difficult terrain. Elevation profiles are often part of the race packet, along with cutoff times, aid station descriptions, and specific rules of the event (pacers, littering, getting lost, etc.).

While this subject of what exactly an ultramarathon consists of is debatable, I just wanted to get this subject out of the way by laying ground rules of the general consensus. With that being said, you will not see us talking about how to train for a half marathon most efficiently, or a training plan to run a 4-hour marathon. We may talk about how marathons can be good training for ultramarathons, but that is as far as we’ll go!